Children | parental care | children care

Today’s Children – Spoilt or Misunderstood? | Parinita Ganesh

Today’s Children – Spoilt or Misunderstood?

Practical tips to raise today’s children.

Being a parent is probably one of the hardest jobs in the world. And being a decent enough parent is even harder. Even more so, today! Sometimes it feels like an Olympic sport. Life can seem like a never-ending list of this or that.

And these choices are made based on the hope that our children will have fulfilling lives. But until what point do decisions still qualify as healthy and at what point overindulgent?

This article will help you with practical tools to parent respectfully and still maintain boundaries that are essential for children’s development.

Spoilt or just misunderstood?

For starters, let’s imagine a “spoilt child.” What does a spoilt child look like? One that screams when irritated? Throws tantrums? Overreacts to non-issues? Asks for things and wants them that very instant? Does it make a mess even after repeated warnings? Is rude when told no? This behaviour can very easily be confused with misbehaviour or brattiness.

The truth is that their brain and nervous systems are still developing. The prefrontal cortex of the brain which is responsible for logical thinking, emotional regulation, impulse control, understanding cause-effect relationships, use of language to describe experience, etc., starts to develop from the age of 5 and goes on until the age of 25. This makes it difficult for children, even teenagers, to live up to adults’ unrealistic expectations. I call this ‘unrealistic’ because many of the above-mentioned behaviours are developmentally appropriate for children under 8 years old. Children need emotional attunement – simply put, they need a caregiver who is calm and composed when their child is unable to be; an attuned adult who understands that the child does not have the tools to self-soothe.

Traditional parenting techniques call for time outs, isolation, silent treatment, using an intimidating voice or even physical force. This leaves a permanent imprint on the child’s mind that’s detrimental to their development. Hence, adults or caregivers must work with the assumption that every child is inherently ‘good.’ And when they are feeling big emotions and even bigger reactions, they aren’t ‘bad.’ They’re merely figuring out how to be little people in this big world.

This is when they need nourishment, not punishment. They need attention and not detention. They need closeness, not isolation. Parents who believe that hitting or screaming isn’t going to get them sustainable results find themselves in a bit of a soup. Mostly because they’re trying to unlearn what they experienced as kids for making the most honest mistakes.

How to stay calm during the storm?

As they say, it is your child’s right to ask for the stars, and your responsibility to say no. And here’s how you say no, gently:

  • Always set clear limits. Don’t expect your children to be able to remember or make sense of those limits. Expect backlash when you enforce those limits. Repeat the limits kindly, and gently empathise with them about how they must feel to not have what they want.
  • A child’s dysregulated nervous system requires an adult’s regulated nervous system for it to stay calm. A child who’s unhappy about a limit being set needs an adult who understands that this child’s unhappiness can be dealt with with kindness and calmness. For example, one could say, “I see that not giving you any more candy is making you so very angry! It makes sense. But we still can’t give you any more candy.”
  • Remember that softening the gaze, kneeling to their height and having a soft voice might help them find their calm sooner than an aggressive, angry stance and voice. On the contrary, an angry demeanour may force them to relent due to the fear of harm but not help them regulate their nervous system. Instead, guide them through deep breathing and other regulating exercises like jumping, pushing against a wall or whacking a pillow on the sofa. For example, a parent can say, “Let’s try breathing together okay? I hop like a bunny when I am angry. Do you want to try that?”
  • Be prepared to go through the same meltdowns multiple times. Remind yourself that the part of the brain that not only helps in impulse control but also a balanced reaction is not developed yet in children. Children learn through repetition; it’ll get easier with time.
  • You’re only human; it’s okay for you to make mistakes, not be perfect or lose your cool at times. Most adults are working with their own experiences of being children. Just push yourself to be consistent. Apologise for raising your voice, accept that you have to find better ways to communicate. But still hold the boundaries of ‘no’ wherever applicable.
  • Sometimes say ‘yes’ to things, too, so that you can keep the line of communication open.
  • Involving children in household chores from a young age helps them gain a sense of responsibility. Simple, achievable tasks around the house like cleaning up after themselves, packing their bags, buying groceries, etc., are ways to build their confidence and prepare them for the future. They learn to be self-sufficient and develop life skills that help keep entitlement at bay.

Strike the right balance

For many parents, finding a balance between rigidity and permissiveness can be challenging. Most parents become too permissive to avoid conflict or due to the fear of not being loved by their children or sometimes to catch a break from the situation that they find themselves in.

However regular experiences of permissiveness from parents can inhibit their learning of what’s appropriate and inappropriate. At the same time, too much rigidity inhibits their risk-taking ability, a block in their communication, a sense of scarcity of means and a low self-esteem. To get to this balance, reinforce your family values. Uphold equitable application of rules – what applies to the kids applies to all members of the family. And even after all this, if a child seems spoiled, leave the child alone, he/she is doing the best they can in the absence of guidance they need.

As Dave Willis said, “There are no perfect parents, and there are no perfect children, but there are plenty of perfect moments along the way.” Attempt to live a full life, full of imperfections!

To read more English blogs, please visit our blog section.

Parinita Ganesh

The author is a social work professional and a counsellor.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.